Maintaining indoor and outdoor areas in children's services

Early childhood workers who have to maintain indoor and outdoor areas are at risk of injury. This guidance may help employers eliminate or reduce and control those risks.

The problem

Early childhood workers in the children's services sector often have to maintain indoor and outdoor areas. Maintaining indoor and outdoor areas puts employees at risk of injuries known as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). MSDs include sprains, strains, fractures and soft-tissue injuries. More information about MSDs is available in WorkSafe's Hazardous manual handling compliance code.

The risks

Children's services employees who maintain indoor and outdoor areas may be at risk of injuries from, for example:

  • falling from height when displaying artwork
  • tripping and falling due to toys that are not packed away
  • tripping or falling due to poorly maintained or uneven floor surfaces
  • tripping or falling due to wet floor surfaces
  • awkward postures due to working at floor level to tidy up
  • repetitive movements required to clean surfaces
Early childhood worker uses an inappropriate aid to reach higher objects and is at risk of falling from height.

Image 1: Early childhood worker uses an inappropriate aid to reach higher objects and is at risk of falling from height.

The solutions

The following control measures may help eliminate or reduce and control risks to employees who maintain indoor and outdoor areas in children's services.

Equipment

  • Use a pulley system to raise and lower stringlines from ground level to display artwork.
  • Use step ladders or step platforms to reach higher objects.
  • Select the most appropriate ladder or step platform for the task. Take into account the industrial/domestic rating, height and base width. Step platforms provide a larger, more stable work surface than ladders.
  • Place ladders or step platforms squarely on firm, non-slip surfaces.
  • Maintain three points of contact when using ladders. For example, two feet and at least one hand or two hands and at least one foot in contact with the ladder when climbing or standing on a ladder.
  • Face the ladder when going up or down or when working from it.
  • Stand no higher than the second tread below the top plate of step ladders.
  • Do not over-reach. Over-reaching can lead to a ladder or step platform tipping sideways.
  • Regularly inspect ladders and step platforms.
  • Repair or replace ladders and step platforms where rungs, steps, treads or top plates are missing, worn, damaged or loose.
  • Do not use tables, chairs, play equipment or milk crates to reach higher objects.
  • Store step platforms or ladders where employees can easily access them when required.
  • Use ladders and step platforms when children are not in the room or area. Children can attempt to climb or play with ladders and platforms, creating a hazard for the user.
  • Provide storage containers that are an appropriate size and shape. Containers should be sturdy and lightweight and have wheels and handles so toys can be packed away easily.
Early childhood worker uses a pulley system and stringline to raise and lower artwork.

Image 2: Early childhood worker uses a pulley system and stringline to raise and lower artwork.

Environment

  • When designing areas for themed play ensure the play areas do not limit walkways or introduce low, hard-to-see objects that are trip hazards.
  • Maintain floor and ground surfaces.
  • Replace uneven or damaged surfaces that cause tripping hazards. For example, damaged carpets, mats, tiles, linoleum, concrete or impact-absorbing surfaces.
  • Regularly maintain outdoor areas to contain materials such as tanbark or sand within their set areas.
  • Install extra power points to avoid stretching electrical cords across floors.
  • Use a surface colour or texture change to highlight where surfaces suddenly change from hard to soft or where a change in level is difficult to see.
  • Immediately clean up spills, no matter how small or whether they occur in staff-only or child-accessible areas.

Systems

  • Tidy areas frequently so toys do not accumulate on the floor.
  • Encourage children to help pick up toys.
  • Schedule and record regular inspections and maintenance of all areas of the workplace and all equipment.
  • Regularly review equipment. Discard equipment and objects that do not need to be kept or have not been used within a set timeframe.
  • Provide employees with information, instruction and supervision about documented work procedures and the use of equipment and aids.
  • Provide reporting processes so safety issues can be identified and controlled as soon as possible.

Legal duties

As an employer you have an obligation under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. This obligation requires you to eliminate risks to health and safety so far as reasonably practicable. If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate those risks, you must reduce those risks, so far as reasonably practicable.

Hazardous manual handling and MSDs

Manual handling is work where you have to lift, lower, push, pull, carry, move, hold or restrain something. It's hazardous manual handling if it involves:

  • repeated, sustained or high force
  • sustained awkward posture
  • repetitive movements
  • exposure to sustained vibration
  • handling people or animals
  • loads that are unstable, unbalanced or hard to hold

Maintaining indoor and outdoor areas in children’s services can be hazardous manual handling and can put employees at risk of an MSD.

Additional duties

Employers have additional duties under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (OHS Regulations) relating to the elimination and control of risks associated with hazardous manual handling and MSDs.

Part 3.1 of the OHS Regulations has details of your specific duties relating to the control of risks from hazardous manual handling. WorkSafe also has guidance on hazardous manual handling, including the Hazardous manual handling compliance code.

To reduce the risk of MSDs, make sure:

  • your workplace has adequate room and facilities for employees to safely perform their tasks
  • employees are using the correct equipment
  • safe systems of work, processes and procedures are in place
  • employees receive appropriate information, instruction, training or supervision so they fully understand the safest ways to maintain indoor and outdoor areas

Consultation

Employers must identify hazards and provide risk controls in consultation with employees and any health and safety representatives (HSRs). Consultation should include discussions about how employees will maintain indoor and outdoor areas, making sure that risk controls do not create new hazards. WorkSafe has guidance on consultation, including consultation with HSRs.